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The Colorado Plateau

The Vast and the Intimate
Suspended in Time
A Textbook of Geomorphology


New Mexico


Aquarius Plateau, Utah
Arches NP, Utah
Arizona Strip
Black Mesa, Arizona
Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
Canyonlands NP, Utah
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Chuska Mountains, New Mexico
Dinosaur NM, Colorado/Utah
Glen Canyon/Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Grand Canyon-Parashant NM, Arizona
Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah
Upper Gunnison Basin, Colorado
Kaibab Plateau, Arizona
La Sal Mountains, Utah
Lees Ferry, Arizona
Little Colorado River, Arizona
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Mogollon Rim, Arizona
San Francisco Peaks, Arizona
White Mountains, Arizona
Wupatki/Sunset Crater, Arizona
Zion NP, Utah

PlacesLees Ferry (page 1 of 5)

A Break in the Canyon

Aerial view of Lees Ferry. Click on photo for larger image and explanatory text.

For the past 20 million years, the Colorado River and its tributaries have been steadfastly carving into the sedimentary strata of the Colorado Plateau, creating the spectacular canyons of today’s landscape. For much of its long path to the ocean, the Colorado River is so deeply entrenched within steep, imposing cliffs that it is extremely difficult to reach, let alone cross. However, there are occasional openings where one cliff ends and, before the next begins, the river is accessible. Such a break occurs at the two mile gap below Glen Canyon where the Colorado joins with its major northern tributary, the Paria River, before plunging into Marble Canyon. The Paria (or Pahreah, Paiute for "muddy water") drains 1,500 mi2 of the Paunsagunt Plateau, and has a highly variable flow of mineral-laden water, ranging from a muddy trickle to heavy floods. The mouth of the Paria, a wide and fertile delta protected from desert winds, eventually became a center of human activity connected with the river crossing.

Lees Ferry, as this place came to be known, has been the most important of the few canyon breaks along the river’s stretch from southern Utah to western Arizona. Anyone with wagons or livestock to move between Utah and Arizona had to either make the river crossing at Lees Ferry or travel hundreds of miles out of their way. Today, Lees Ferry is the gateway to the Colorado River, the launching site for the tens of thousands of river runners who traverse through the Grand Canyon every year, as well as a tourist destination and the location of one of the world’s premier trout fisheries. [Regional map].

Follow these links to:

Page 2 -- The Earliest Years
Page 3 -- The "Ferry" of Lees Ferry
Page 4 -- 20th Century Land Use
Page 5 -- Lees Ferry Today
                References and Resources